Jesus rode into Jerusalem Palm Sunday. He sat on the donkey. No one came to lay down palms. The crowds were social distancing. The disciples wore masks, and 3 had to stay home to meet city ordinances. It doesn’t quite work.
Self quarantine, even with the best of intentions, leaves us feeling hollow as the crowds gather to meet the Lord who enters into the city to cries of “Hosannah!” We’ve been away for too long already. It’s tiring. It’s harder to sing hymns at a screen. You still should, but it feels weird. It’s harder to listen to a sermon when social media is a click away. At least during regular church, I can see who’s gotten bored of listening to me. The longer this goes on the more the frustration builds.
But what’s it say about us that we literally covet the freedom of the crowd who would cry ‘crucify!’ in a week? At least they got to sing together before they rose up together to cry for the murder of our Lord. As the frustration builds, so does the temptation to think our problems would go away if we could just be near each other again. We’re wrong.
Freedom’s a funny thing. Everybody wants it. We treat it like the greatest of treasures, a sacred thing, an inalienable right. But we can’t actually describe it. Ask someone about freedom and they’ll skip right over it every time to tell you about what they really want. Freedom only means being able to leave the house again. Let me sit in a pew again. Let me see my friends and family. We describe it in a way that always goes hand in hand with control. Of wanting for nothing.
The thing is, Jesus is God almighty. Presumably, He has control. God should lack nothing. He’s free, but He can do nothing but ride into Jerusalem on a donkey to die. At the same time, the people want freedom so badly they’ll trade the cloaks off their own backs and throw palm branches for kings to get it. They shout Hosanna, save us. But anger, fear, and pride will grab hold of them so tight they’ll yell ‘Crucify!’ in a week. Same crowd. They have what we covet, the freedom to meet, but as it turns out, that doesn’t cure their disease. Sin still flows out from the heart. It still breaks stuff. They have the same problems we have. Bottled deep inside their hearts are the idols they bow to in the name of freedom. Each has a nice label on it. Covetousness. Lust. Hate.
I keep all the same idols bottled on the shelf in my heart. They make us stupid. We end up choosing things that don’t make sense. We bow to those idols in the hope of finding peace, but only end up hurting because of sin. Not just each other. We hurt ourselves. In all of it, no matter how much control we have, or how happy we feel, peace just seems to elude us. We aren’t as free as we like to think.
So our Lord rides free into Jerusalem to die for those worn down and exhausted by sin. He preaches to the sinners, not just about the ridiculousness of our bottled up idols, but of hope. He fulfills the promises of the prophets. He sustains the weary with a word. He preaches of life that death cannot destroy, of freedom not rooted in control, of hope not steeped in idolatry. He preaches Himself, then He answers the cry of the crowds. Both of them. Hosannah. Save us. Crucify. He gives His back to those who strike. He bears our disgrace. He carries your sin. He helps, and in doing so, He shows us what real peace is.
He submits to arrest. He sacrifices control. He stands before pilate under all the pressure in the world. He’s the only one at peace. The Pharisees are in a rage. The disciples are terrified. The crowds cry in anger. Pilate’s hands are tied. And Jesus is glorified. Through short quiet cadence He answers Pilate. Through gritted teeth He promises thieves life. Through agonizing pain he cries it is finished.
But even in the midst of His trial and His pain and His death He talks like He’s free. He could come down from the cross anytime, but He doesn’t. He can’t, but He’s still at peace. He dies for you that you might have a measure of the same. He dies for you and me and all the world that the prayer of a lost and sinful people would finally be answered. Hosanna. Save us. From all evil. From all tyranny. From what we do to ourselves and each other in the name of freedom. It is finished. Your sins are forgiven you. Death is destroyed. You are free.
Freedom is a funny thing. It doesn’t look like running far enough from the things that scare us or even steamrolling over them. It doesn’t even always look like control, but it always looks like peace. Freedom is the chance to hold your head high in the face of every enemy because the God who loves you so much He would yield His freedom to grant you your own will save you from whatever you face. Set your face like flint. The Jesus who saves sinners is your help today.
That’s where real peace is. Because now, it isn’t ours to build through control. It isn’t ours to measure by having every desire met. There’s peace in that because now we don’t have to figure out how to get happier when we don’t feel fulfilled anymore. We don’t have to be afraid of every enemy that threatens to take what’s ours. We don’t have to covet control. We have a comfort in the face of evil, torment, and sin. We have the victory over death. We have a God who promises that He will defend us, save us, and grant us peace.
Today we stand apart, yet still together. We are united by the God who frees us from sin and death. We are united with the crowds who cried Hosannah. We are united by the cross. Their cross. My cross. Jesus’ cross for you.